1839-1908 Ouida.

Wisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida online

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hate was like the devouring flame ; and any who should
have harmed a single lock of her curling hair would
have had the spears of the African Mussulmans buried
by the score in his body. They loved her, with the one
fond triumphant love these vultures of the army ever
knew ; and to-day they gloried in her with fierce pas-
sionate delight. To-day she was to her wild wolves of
Africa what Jeanne of Vaucouleurs was to her brethren
of France. And to-day was the crown of her young life.
It is given to most, if the desire of their soul ever be-
come theirs, to possess it only when long and weary and
fainting toil has brought them to its goal; when beholding
the golden fruit so far off, through so dreary a pilgrimage,
dulls its bloom as they approach ; when having so long
centred all their thoughts and hopes in the denied pos-
session of that one fair thing, they find but little beauty
in it when that possession is granted to satiate their love.
But thrice happy, and few as happy, are they to whom
the dream of their youth is fulfilled in their youth, to
whom their ambition comes in full sweet fruitage, while
yet the colours of glory have not faded to the young,
eager, longing eyes that watch its advent. And of these
was Cigarette.

In the fair, slight, girlish body of the child-soldier
there lived a courage as daring as Danton's, a patriotism
as pure as Vergniaud's, a soul as aspiring as Napoleon's.
Untaught, untutored, uninspired by poet's words or
patriot's bidding, spontaneous as the rising and the
blossoming of some wind-sown, sun-fed flower, there was,
in this child of the battle and the razzia, the spirit of
genius, the desire to live and to die greatly. It was un-
reasoned on, it was felt, not thought, it was often drowned
in the gaiety of young laughter, and the ribaldry of


military jest, it was often obscured by noxious influence,
and stifled beneath the fumes of lawless pleasure ; but
there, ever, in the soul and the heart of Cigarette, dwelt
the germ of a pure ambition the ambition to do some
noble thing for France, and leave her name upon her
soldiers' lips, a watchword and a rallying-cry for ever-
more. To be for ever a beloved tradition in the army
of her country, to have her name remembered in the
roll-call as "Mart sur le champ tfhonneur ; " to be once
shrined in the love and honour of France, Cigarette full
of the boundless joys of life that knew no weakness and
no pain, strong as the young goat, happy as the young
lamb, careless as the young flower tossing on the summer
breeze Cigarette would have died contentedly. And
now, living, some measure of this desire had been ful-
filled to her, some breath of this imperishable glory had
passed over her. France had heard the story of Zaraila ;
from the throne a message had been passed to her ;
what was far beyond all else to her, her own Army of
Africa had crowned her, and thanked her, and adored
her as with one voice, and wheresoever she passed the
wild cheers rang through the roar of musketry, as through
the silence of sunny air, and throughout the regiments
every sword would have sprung from its scabbard in her
defence if she had but lifted her hand and said one
word " Zaraila ! "

The Army looked on her with delight now. In all
that mute, still, immovable mass that stretched out so
far, in such gorgeous array, there was not one man whose
eyes did not turn on her, whose pride did not centre in
her their Little One who was so wholly theirs, and
who had been under the shadow of their flag ever since
the curls, so dark now, had been yellow as wheat in her
infancy. The flag had been her shelter, her guardian,
her plaything, her idol ; the flutter of the striped folds
had been the first thing at which her childish eyes had


laughed ; the preservation of its colours from the sacrilege
of an enemy's touch had been her religion, a religion
whose true following was, in her sight, salvation of the
worst and the most worthless life ; and that flag she
had saved, and borne aloft in victory at Zaraila. There
was not one in all those hosts whose eyes did not turn
on her with gratitude, and reverence, and delight in her
as their own.

But she had scarce time even for that flash of pain to
quiver in impotent impatience through her. The trumpets
sounded, the salvoes of artillery pealed out, the lances
and the swords were carried up in salute ; on to the
ground rode the Marshal of France, who represented the
imperial will and presence, surrounded by his staff, by
generals of division and brigade, by officers of rank, and
by some few civilian riders. An aide galloped up to her
where she stood with the corps of her Spahis, and gave
her his orders. The Little One nodded carelessly, and
touched Etoile-Filante with the prick of the spur. Like
lightning the animal bounded forth from the ranks,
rearing and plunging, and swerving from side to side,
while his rider, with exquisite grace and address, kept
her seat like the little semi-Arab that she was, and with
a thousand curves and bounds cantered down the line of
the gathered troops, with the west wind blowing from
the far-distant sea, and fanning her bright cheeks till
they wore the soft scarlet flush of the glowing japonica
flower. And all down the ranks a low, hoarse, strange,
longing murmur went the buzz of the voices which, but
that discipline suppressed them, would have broken out
in worshipping acclamations.

As carelessly as though she reined up before the cafe
door of the As de Pique, she arrested her horse before
the great Marshal who was the impersonation of autho-
rity, and put her hand up in the salute, with her saucy
wayward laugh. He was the impersonation of that vast,


silent, awful, irresponsible power which, under the name
of the Second Empire, stretched its hand of iron across
the sea, and forced the soldiers of France down into
nameless graves, with the desert sand choking their
mouths ; but he was no more to Cigarette than any
drummer-boy that might be present. She had all the
contempt for the laws of rank of your thorough inborn
democrat, all the gay insotcciant indifference to station
of the really free and untrammelled nature ; and, in her
sight, a dying soldier, lying quietly in a ditch to perish
of shot-wounds without a word or a moan, was greater
than all Messieurs les Mardchaux glittering in their stars
and orders. As for impressing her, or hoping to impress
her, with rank pooh ! You might as well have bid the
sailing clouds pause in their floating passage because
they came between royalty and the sun. All the sove-
reigns of Europe would have awed Cigarette not one
whit more than a gathering of muleteers. "Allied sove-
reigns bah ! : ' she would have said, " what did that
mean in ! 1 5 ? A chorus of magpies chattering over
one stricken eagle ! "

So she reined up before the Marshal and his staff,
and the few great personages whom Algeria could bring
around them, as indifferently as she had many a time
reined up before a knot of grim Turcos, smoking under
a barrack-gate. He was nothing to her ; it was her Army
that crowned her. " The Generalissimo is the poppy-
head, the men are the wheat ; lay every ear of the
wheat low, and of what use is the towering poppy that
blazed so grand in the sun ? " Cigarette would say
with metaphorical unction, forgetful, like most allegorists,
that her fable was one-sided and unjust in figure and

Nevertheless, despite her gay contempt for rank, her
heart beat fast under its golden-laced jacket as she
reined up Etoile and saluted. In that hot clear sun all


the eyes of that immense host were fastened on her, and
the hour of her longing desire was come at last. France
had recognised that she had done greatly, and France,
through the voice of this, its chief, spoke to her France,
her beloved, and her guiding-star, for whose sake the
young brave soul within her would have dared and have
endured all things. There was a group before her, large
and brilliant, but at them Cigarette never looked ; what
she saw were the sunburnt faces of her " children," of
men who, in the majority, were old enough to be her
grandsires, who had been with her through so many
darksome hours, and whose black and rugged features
lightened and grew tender whenever they looked upon
their Little One. For the moment she felt giddy with
sweet fiery joy ; they were here to behold her thanked
in the name of France.

The Marshal, in advance of all his staff, touched his
plumed hat and bowed to his saddle-bow as he faced
her. He knew her well by sight, this pretty child of
his Army of Africa, who had, before then, suppressed
mutiny like a veteran, and led the charge like a Murat
this kitten with a lion's heart, this humming-bird with
an eagle's swoop.

" Mademoiselle," he commenced, while his voice,
well skilled to such work, echoed to the farthest end of
the long lines of troops, " I have the honour to discharge
to-day the happiest duty of my life. In conveying to
you the expression of the Emperor's approval of your
noble conduct in the present campaign, 1 express the
sentiments of the whole Army. Your action on the day
of Zaraila was as brilliant in conception as it was great
in execution ; and the courage you displayed was only
equalled by your patriotism. May the soldiers of many
wars remember you and emulate you. In the name of
France, I thank you. In the name of the Emperor, I
bring to you the Cross of the Legion of Honour."


As the brief and soldierly words rolled down the ranks
of the listening regiments, he stooped forward from his
saddle and fastened the red ribbon on her breast ; while
from the whole gathered mass, watching, hearing, waiting
breathlessly to give their tribute of applause to their
darling also, a great shout rose as with one voice, strong,
full, echoing over and over again across the plains in
thunder that joined her name with the name of France
and of Napoleon, and hurled it upward in fierce tumul-
tuous idolatrous love to those cruel cloudless skies that
shone above the dead. She was their child, their treasure,
their idol, their young leader in war, their young angel
in suffering ; she was all their own, knowing with them
one common mother France. Honour to her was
honour to them ; they gloried with heart and soul in
this bright young fearless life that had been among them
ever since her infant feet had waded through the blood
of slaughter-fields, and her infant lips had laughed to
see the tricolour float in the sun above the smoke of

And as she heard, her face became very pale, her
large eyes grew dim and very soft, her mirthful mouth
trembled with the pain of a too intense joy. She lifted
her head, and all the unutterable love she bore her
country and her people thrilled through the music of her
voice :

" Fran$ais ! ce n'etait rien ! "

That was all she said ; in that one first word of their
common nationality, she spoke alike to the Marshal of
the Empire and to the conscript of the ranks. " Fran-
cais ! " that one title made them all equal in her sight ;
whoever claimed it was honoured in her eyes, and was
precious to her heart, and when she answered them that
it was nothing, this thing which they glorified in her,
she answered but what seemed the simple truth in her
code. She would have thought it "nothing" to have


perished by shot, or steel, or flame, in day-long torture,
for that one fair sake of France.

Vain in all else, and to all else wayward, here she
was docile and submissive as the most patient child ; here
she deemed the greatest and the hardest thing that she
could ever do far less than all that she would willingly
have done. And as she looked upon the host whose
thousand and ten thousand voices rang up to the noon-
day sun in her homage, and in hers alone, a light like
a glory beamed upon her face, that for once was white
and still and very grave ; none who saw her face then,
ever forgot that look.

In that moment she touched the full sweetness of a
proud and pure ambition, attained and possessed in all
its intensity, in all its perfect splendour. In that moment
she knew that divine hour which, born of a people's love
and of the impossible desires of genius in its youth,
comes to so few human lives knew that which was
known to the young Napoleon when, in the hot hush
of the nights of July, France welcomed the Conqueror
of Italy.

CHE longed to do as some girl of whom she had once
been told by an old Invalide had done in the '89
a girl of the people, a fisher-girl of the Canndbiere who
had loved one above her rank, a noble who deserted her
for a woman of his own order, a beautiful, soft-skinned,
lily-like scornful aristocrat, with the silver ring of merci-
less laughter, and the languid lustre of sweet contemp-
tuous eyes. The Marseillaise bore her wrong in silence
she was a daughter of the south and of the populace,
with a dark, brooding, burning beauty, strong and fierce,
and braced with the salt lashing of the sea and with the
keen breath of the stormy mistral. She held her peace
while the great lady was wooed and won, while the

2 C


marriage joys came with the purple vintage time, while
the people were made drunk at the bridal of their chate-
laine in those hot, ruddy, luscious autumn days.

She held her peace ; and the Terror came, and the
streets of the city by the sea ran blood, and the scorch
of the sun blazed, every noon, on the scaffold. Then
she had her vengeance. She stood and saw the axe fall
down on the proud snow-white neck that never had bent
till it bent there, and she drew the severed head into her
own bronzed hands and smote the lips his lips had kissed,
a cruel blow that blurred their beauty out, and twined a
fish-hook in the long and glistening hair, and drew it,
laughing as she went, through dust, and mire, and gore,
and over the rough stones of the town, and through the
shouting crowds of the multitudes, and tossed it out on
to the sea, laughing still as the waves flung it out from
billow to billow, and the fish sucked it down to make
their feast. " Voild, tes secondes noces ! " she cried where
she stood, and laughed by the side of the gray angry
water, watching the tresses of the floating hair sink down-
ward like a heap of sea-tossed weed.

"""THERE is only one thing worth doing to die
greatly ! " thought the aching heart of the child-
soldier, unconsciously returning to the only end that the
genius and the greatness of Greece could find as issue
to the terrible jest, the mysterious despair, of all existence.

A VERY old man one who had been a conscript in
*"* the bands of Young France, and marched from his
Pyrenean village to the battle-tramp of the Marseillaise,
and charged with the Enfans de Paris across the plains


of Gemappes ; who had known the passage of the Alps,
and lifted the long curls from the dead brow of De'saix,
at Marengo, and seen in the sultry noonday dust of a
glorious summer the Guard march into Paris, while the
people laughed and wept with joy, surging like the
mighty sea around one pale frail form, so young by
years, so absolute by genius.

A very old man ; long broken with poverty, with pain,
with bereavement, with extreme old age; and by a long
course of cruel accidents, alone, here in Africa, without
one left of the friends of his youth, or of the children
of his name, and deprived even of the charities due
from his country to his services alone save for the
little Friend of the Flag, who, for four years, had kept
him on the proceeds of her wine trade, in this Moorish
attic, tending him herself when in town, taking heed
that he should want for nothing when she was cam-

She hid, as her lawless courage would not have
stooped to hide a sin, had she chosen to commit one,
this compassion which she, the young condottiera of
Algeria, showed with so tender a charity to the soldier
of Bonaparte. To him, moreover, her fiery imperious
voice was gentle as the dove, her wayward dominant will
was pliant as the reed, her contemptuous sceptic spirit
was reverent as a child's before an altar. In her sight
the survivor of the Army of Italy was sacred ; sacred
the eyes which, when full of light, had seen the sun
glitter on the breastplates of the Hussars of Murat, the
Dragoons of Kellerman, the Cuirassiers of Milhaud ;
sacred the hands which, when nervous with youth, had
borne the standard of the Republic victorious against the
gathered Teuton host in the Thermopylae of Champagne ;
sacred the ears which, when quick to hear, had heard
the thunder of Arcola, of Lodi, of Rivoli, and, above
even the tempest of war, the clear, still voice of


Napoleon ; sacred the lips which, when their beard was
dark in the fulness of manhood, had quivered, as with a
woman's weeping, at the farewell in the spring night in
the moonlit Cour des Adieux.

Cigarette had a religion of her own ; and followed it
more closely than most disciples follow other creeds.

HTHE way was long ; the road ill-formed, leading for
the most part across a sere and desolate country,
with nothing to relieve its barrenness except long stretches
of the great spear-headed reeds. At noon the heat was
intense ; the little cavalcade halted for half an hour
under the shade of some black towering rocks which
broke the monotony of the district, and commenced a
more hilly and more picturesque portion of the country.
Cigarette came to the side of the temporary ambulance
in which Cecil was placed. He was asleep sleeping for
once peacefully with little trace of pain upon his features,
as he had slept the previous night. She saw that his
face and chest had not been touched by the stinging
insect-swarm ; he was doubly screened by a shirt hung
above him dexterously on some bent sticks.

" Who has done that ? " thought Cigarette. As she
glanced round she saw without any linen to cover him,
Zackrist had reared himself up and leaned slightly for-
ward over against his comrade. The shirt that protected
Cecil was his ; and on his own bare shoulders and
mighty chest the tiny armies of the flies and gnats were
fastened, doing their will uninterrupted.

As he caught her glance, a sullen ruddy glow of
shame shone through the black hard skin of his sun-
burnt visage shame to which he had been never touched
when discovered in any one of his guilty and barbarous


" Dame /" he growled savagely ; " he gave me his
wine ; one must do something in return. Not that I
feel the insects not I ; my skin is leather, see you ;
they can't get through it ; but his is peau de femme
white and soft bah ! like tissue paper ! "

" I see, Zackrist ; you are right. A French soldier
can never take a kindness from an English fellow with-
out outrunning him in generosity. Look here is some
drink for you."

She knew too well the strange nature with which she
had to deal to say a syllable of praise to him for his self-
devotion, or to appear to see that, despite his boast of
his leather skin, the stings of the cruel winged tribes
were drawing his blood and causing him alike pain and
irritation which, under that sun, and added to the
torment of his gunshot wound, were a martyrdom as
great as the noblest saint ever endured.

" Tiens ! tiens ! I did him wrong," murmured
Cigarette. " That is what they are the children of
France even when they are at their worst, like that
devil, Zackrist. Who dare say they are not the heroes
of the world ? "

And all through the march she gave Zackrist a double
portion of her water dashed with red wine, that was so
welcome and so precious to the parched and aching
throats ; and all through the march Cecil lay asleep, and
the man who had thieved from him, the man whose soul
was stained with murder, and pillage, and rapine, sat
erect beside him, letting the insects suck his veins and
pierce his flesh.

It. was only when they drew near the camp of the
main army that Zackrist beat off the swarm and drew
his oM shirt over his head. " You do not want to say
anything to him," he muttered to Cigarette. " I am of
leather, you know ; I have not felt it."

She nodded ; she understood him. Yet his shoulders


and his chest were well-nigh flayed, despite the tough
and horny skin of which he made his boast.

" Dieu ! we are droll ! " mused Cigarette. " If we
do a good thing, we hide it as if it were a bit of stolen
meat, we are so afraid it should be found out ; but, if
they do one in the world there, they bray it at the tops
of their voices from the houses' roofs, and run all down
the streets screaming about it for fear it should be lost.
Dieu ! we are droll ! "

And she dashed the spurs into her mare and galloped
off at the height of her speed into camp a very city of
canvas, buzzing with the hum of life, regulated with the
marvellous skill and precision of French warfare, yet
with the carelessness and the picturesqueness of the
desert-life pervading it.

I IKE wave rushing on wave of some tempestuous
ocean, the men swept out to meet her in one great
surging tide of life, impetuous, passionate, idolatrous,
exultant, with all the vivid ardour, all the uncontrolled
emotion, of natures south-born, sun-nurtured. They
broke away from their mid-day rest as from their mili-
tary toil, moved as by one swift breath of fire, and flung
themselves out to meet her, the chorus of a thousand
voices ringing in deafening vivas to the skies. She was
enveloped in that vast sea of eager, furious lives, in that
dizzy tumult of vociferous cries, and stretching hands,
and upturned faces. As her soldiers had done the night
before, so these did now kissing her hands, her dress,
her feet, sending her name in thunder through the sun-
lit air, lifting her from off her horse, and bearing her, in
a score of stalwart arms, triumphant in their midst.
She was theirs their own the Child of the Army,


the Little One whose voice above their dying brethren
had the sweetness of an angel's song, and whose feet,
in their hours of revelry, flew like the swift and dazzling
flight of gold-winged orioles. And she had saved the
honour of their Eagles ; she had given to them and to
France their god of Victory. They loved her O
God, how they loved her ! with that intense, breathless,
intoxicating love of a multitude which, though it may
stone to-morrow what it adores to-day, has yet for those
on whom it has once been given thus a power no other
love can know a passion unutterably sad, deliriously

That passion moved her strangely.

As she looked down upon them, she knew that not
one man breathed among that tumultuous mass but
would have died that moment at her word ; not one
mouth moved among that countless host but breathed
her name in pride, and love, and honour.

She might be a careless young coquette, a lawless
little brigand, a child of sunny caprices, an elf of daunt-
less mischief; but she was more than these. The divine
fire of genius had touched her, and Cigarette would have
perished for her country not less surely than Jeanne
d'Arc. The holiness of an impersonal love, the glow of
an imperishable patriotism, the melancholy of a pas-
sionate pity for the concrete and unnumbered sufferings
of the people were in her, instinctive and inborn, as
fragrance in the heart of flowers. And all these together
moved her now, and made her young face beautiful as
she looked down upon the crowded soldiery.

" It was nothing," she answered them ; " it was
nothing. It was for France."

For France ! They shouted back the beloved word
with tenfold joy ; and the great sea of life beneath her
tossed to and fro in stormy triumph, in frantic paradise
of victory, ringing her name with that of France upon


the air, in thunder-shouts like spears of steel smiting on
shields of bronze.

But she stretched her hand out, and swept it back-
ward to the desert-border of the south with a gesture
that had awe for them.

" Hush ! " she said softly, with an accent in her
voice that hushed the riot of their rejoicing homage till
it lulled like the lull in a storm. " Give me no honour
while they sleep yonder. With the dead lies the glory ! "

'"THOUGHTS are very good grain, but if they are not
whirled round, round, round, and winnowed and
ground in the millstones of talk, they remain little, hard,

Online Library1839-1908 OuidaWisdom, wit, and pathos : selected from the works of Ouida → online text (page 28 of 39)